For Photographers, Instagram Square Photos are Worse than a TOS Update

I’m a photographer and I use both my iPhone 4S and my Digital SLR to take photos.

There’s a difference between taking pictures and taking photos, however, and the nuance is an important thing to understand. When you raise a camera and snap a photo, unless you’re paying attention to things like composition, lighting, depth of field, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you’re taking a picture. If you’re doing all of those things (or reasonably close to all those things), you are safely in the category of “doing photography”.

One is casual. The other is intentionally art (whether good art or not is a subjective matter that shouldn’t be handled in this post).

Art doesn’t have to be Pablo Picasso or Ansel Adams or John Lennon. It doesn’t have to have a philisophical meaning or intent. Art is the expression of the Artist on an outward medium. Or in the case of photography, it is more simply the interpretation of what the eyes sees into a likeness in film or in digital media. Photography as art cannot be done haphazardly. That’s how people get caught in the trap of buying a $2000 camera and wondering why their photos suck. Because there is no context of movement, sound, smell or touch, the essence of a point in time must be captured entirely visually. If it’s done right, it’s art because care, intent and a degree of skill are needed to translate the moment into a snapshot.

Photographers work hard to get this right. It takes a perceptive eye, a knowledge of the equipment, lighting and composition to make a great piece of art in the form of a photograph.

I thought this was about Instagram?

This is about Instagram. Instagram’s app used to allow the user to upload a photo that did not fit a strict “square” format and pinch and squeeze to resize and get an entire photo in. While this was not as aesthetically pleasing as it could have been, it gave the photographer the ability to use the entirety of a photo and the composition nuances in it.

The new app does not allow for this zoom and strictly enforces a square model. The Next Web covers some of the pushback and takes the opposite side as me – that it’s high time Instagram enforce a square photo.

Take this photo as an example. I love this photo of Downtown Austin from across the S. Lamar St Bridge. The composition here is extremely important. The reflection of the bridge in the water, the trees and of course the kayaker under the bridge make this photo what it is. Here is my post-production piece.

Austin, Texas

However, what happens with Instagram? I have to scroll to one side or the other or find a happy medium in the middle for this photo.

Austin, Tx - iPhone

I realize, of course, that many users hate to see black bars across the top of the Instagram photo, as it was the day I posted my photo to Instagram!

Austin, Tx - Old InstagramHowever, this is the balancing act that Instagram has to consider. While creating a photography app for the masses, the need to keep photographers on board is essential. The new app takes away the artistic prerogative and choice from the artist and puts discretion in the hands of the masses. Last time I checked, the masses don’t shoot my photos, edit my photos, make artistic choices about my photos or have the same skills or style that I possess as an artist.

choose what my photos look like. I use Instagram to publish because it has two things: an audience and a distribution vehicle. When I post to Instagram, I push my photos to both Twitter and Facebook. I chose this even with the artistic limitations that it offered before this app update (namely the “letterbox” that goes with the photos that don’t fit into a square format).

One can argue that Instagram had to make a business decision, perhaps inline with the desires of their Facebook overlords. I guess that argument can be made. But removing artistic license abilities of artists who are using the platform is a terrible idea. Imagine if Twitter had said, back in 2007, that they had this platform that could only be used with 140 characters because it was built for use over text message and, since that was their original idea, and the colonial approach to the short message service was the only appropriate way of consumption, then text messages would be the only method of use allowed.

That is, in fact, exactly what Instagram has said indirectly, and what the Next Web article (linked above) advocates. Hey, photography used to be limited to a square format because it was the cheapest way to do it. Yeah… and then we got 35mm film which opened up a 4:3 ratio. And then we got digital that opened photographers to new technologies to create different formats, styles and use different concepts to create art.

Imagine if all our music sounded exactly the same way as the Beatles did in the 60s. Would there be any evolution to music? Of course not, because every artist would sound exactly the same way, use exactly the same cadence, write lyrics that epiphanize the exact same mindset that existed in the 60s and generally would be boring today – and I’m a big Beatles fan!

Returning to a square format is not a bad thing. There are vintage schools of thought in every format of art, fashion, music and culture. But that doesn’t mean that every artist should be forced to adopt such styles. That makes photography boring and conformist. That’s not why we do photography!

The Top 50 Stories Since the Invasion of Iraq

War is over, if you want it. ~John Lennon

This is a time of year, as we draw 2011 to a close and embark on 2012, to reminisce about the events of the last year. It’s a tradition followed by journalists, bloggers, and opinionistas alike. But since today marks the day where the War in Iraq is officially drawn to a close, I thought I’d share some of the top stories of the past nearly 8 years. The world has changed drastically. For those who served, bled and maybe died… we salute you.

50. Saddaam Hussein Captured (December 13, 2003)

A mere 9 months after the U.S. Invasion began, Sadaam Hussein is captured by Special Forces and turned over to the interim Iraqi Government. He was tried and convicted for crimes against humanity and was later executed by hanging.

49. NASA Mars Rover Confirms Water (March 2, 2004)

NASA Rover Opportunity confirms that the area where she landed on the surface of Mars once was covered in water. The discovery was made when Opportunity confirmed the presence of gypsum, a compound formed when calcium water encounters sulfates.

48. Massachusetts Gay Marriage (May 17, 2004)

Massachusetts becomes the first state in the United States to formally legalize gay marriage. This came about after a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision deemed it unconstitutional to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Governor Mitt Romney ordered State agencies and government to issue marriage licenses in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. Efforts continue to formally amend the Massachusetts Constitution.

47. Freedom Tower Groundbreaking (July 4, 2004)

After several years of planning and politics, ground is broke for the building of the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. When complete, the tower will stand 105 stories and cost over $3.1B. It is estimated to open in 2013.

46. Boston Red Sox win Game 4 of the ALCS (Oct 17, 2004)

Red Sox faithful are given a spark of hope when, after being down to the New York Yankees 3 games to none in a best-of-seven series, came from behind in the 9th inning to avoid elimination in Game 4. The game proved to be pivotal as the Red Sox went on to win the ALCS 4-3 taking the Yankees to Game 7 and then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series win since 1918.

45. South Asian Tsunami (Dec 26, 2004)

Tragedy struck on Boxing Day as a powerful sub-oceanic earthquake triggers a tsunami that would affect the entire Indian Ocean rim. Most devastating were the effects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia where confirmed deaths approached 170k.

44. Scott Peterson Sentenced to Death (March 16, 2005)

Scott Peterson is convicted of the capital crime of murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn child. Laci was 8 months pregnant and had gone missing. While Scott was a “person of interest”, it wasn’t until the remains of Laci and their child were discovered, that Scott was arrested and ultimately convicted. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and remains on death row in San Quentin Prison.

43. Pope John Paul II Dies (April 2, 2005)

The Catholic Church and the world go into mourning at the passing of 84 year old Pope John Paul II. Born Karol Jósef Wojtyla to Polish parents, the Pope was renowned for his progressive world views and is widely credited with helping to bring about the end of communism in Poland. He served for 26 years.

42. Deep Throat Revealed (May 31, 2005)

Since 1972, the identity of the notorious Watergate informer was speculated on but never really known except to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who legendarily covered the scandal. On May 31, 2005, Mark Felt, then the number two guy at the CIA, revealed himself as Deep Throat. Bob Woodward, when reached for confirmation, acknowledged the revelation to be true bringing to an end one of the most intriguing conspiracy stories of recent history.

41. Steve Jobs Gives His Stanford Commencement Address (June 12, 2005)

Since the death of Steve Jobs a few months ago, his famous “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” commencement address at Stanford University has seen a resurgence. In this 15 minute address, Jobs relates three anecdotes from his life and lessons learned from them. It would go on to become a window into the kind of man Jobs was and continues to serve as inspiration.

40. Lance Armstrong Wins His 7th Tour de France (July 24, 2005)

Lance Armstrong, the six-time Tour de France winner, notches his 7th win, an unprecedented feat. Armstrongs story in inspiring considering his battle with (and his defeat of) testicular cancer.

39. Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005)

A devastating time in American history, Katrina became the biggest natural disaster ever to occur in the United States. The initial brunt of the storm wreaked havoc on the Mississippi and Alabama coastline, but the whiplash effect that occurs as a storm passes by proved to be as devastating. As the storm passed over Mississippi, the back winds pushed water from Lake Pontchatrain on the north-side of New Orleans over and through levees setup to hold the water back from the sub-sea level city. The media coverage was vast. The horrors and atrocities deplorable. And the political response wreaked of incompetence.

38. The Sago Mine rescue (January 5, 2006)

A mining explosion deep in the tunnels of the Sago Mine in West Virginia trapped 13 miners underground for over 2 days. Ultimately, only one survived. This came after the mine released misinformation that led news outlets to report the exact opposite – that one miner was found dead and 12 rescued.

37. Apple sells it’s 1B Song via the iTunes Store (February 22, 2006)

Announced to great hype and with great marketing prowess, Apple sold it’s 1 billionth song via the iTunes Store continuing to mark the iPod as one of the greatest market-transforming technologies ever built by the Cupertino, California company.

36. The Enron Trial Jury Conviction (May 25, 2006)

After a much publicized “media trial”, a jury convicts former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay and COO Jeffrey Skilling. Skilling was convicted on 19 counts of securities fraud and wire fraud. Lay was convicted on 6 counts. Lay died before sentencing and, accordingly, his conviction was vacated. Skilling is currently serving a 24 year sentence.

35. Twitter launched to the public (July 15, 2006)

Formerly known as Twittr and, really, at the time unknown to the public, Jack Dorsey launches a prototype of the short form status message service based on text messaging. With funding and support by Odeo’s Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Twitter quickly becomes the horse they all rode in on. Twitter has become one of the most necessary and integrated forms of online communication and has contributed to social, economic, political and mundane events around the world.

34. Crocodile Hunter Steve Erwin Killed By a Stingray (September 4, 2006)

Beloved crazy man, Steve Erwin, is killed by a stingray who stung him through his chest to his heart while filming a stunt. He was known for putting himself in dangerous situations with unpredictable wildlife.

33. The Louisiana Superdome Re-opens After Katrina (September 25, 2006)

An emotional New Orleans celebrates the re-opening of the Superdome, the location of shelter and horrendous criminal actions following Hurricane Katrina. The Dome was re-opened with a New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons Monday Night Football game. The halftime show featured U2 and Green Day. The Saints won an emotional game 23-3.

32. Facebook Opens It’s Walls to the Public (September 26, 2006)

Facebook before September 26, 2006, was only available to college students or select corporations that were registered with Facebook. That changed when the doors were opened for everyone. This was the first step for Facebook to dominate the Myspace-Facebook war.

31. North Korea Tests a Nuke (October 9, 2006)

North Korea gives a 6-day warning of an impending nuclear test, the first time that any country has ever done that. China is alerted 20 minutes ahead of the test and they promptly sent an emergency dispatch to Washington. North Korea explodes a small-time nuclear bomb under a mountain near the Chinese border. The test garnered international criticism and put troops in South Korea and Japan on high alert.

30. The Democratic Landslide of 2006 (November 7, 2006)

In an election widely scene as a referendum on President George W. Bush, Democrats won the day in a large and sweeping manner. Nationally, the Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, the Democrats picked up 7 seats for a 51-49 majority. In the House, they commanded a 233-202 majority. They also took 6 Governorships from the GOP giving them a 28-22 majority there. In statewide elections, similar results were reflected as the national electorate was widely seen as rebuffing the Bush Administration.

29. The iPhone Launch (June 29, 2007)

To much pomp, circumstance and expectation, people lined up outside of Apple, AT&T and other partner carrier stores around the world to get their hands on the iPhone, a first of its kind product. To that date, no one had effectively released and mass-marketed a touch screen convergence device such as what Apple promised. People camped out for days to be the first to buy the phone with a price-tag of $600.

28. Public Vote for a Barry Bonds Asterisk on #756 (September 26, 2007)

Mark Ecko makes a controversial purchase of the homerun ball that was Barry Bonds 756th and record-setting homerun. Due to the steroids controversy, sports fans debated ad nauseum about whether the hall of fame ball (and player) should have an asterisk (the proverbial, “oh by the way this is controversial” indication).

Ecko put a website up asking the public to vote on whether his purchased ball, which he intended to donate to the Baseball Hall of Fame, should be marked with an asterisk prior to donation. The public thought it should, and so it does.

27. The Mitchell Report (December 13, 2007)

Former Senator George Mitchell releases his controversial report from the steroid investigation committee he chaired on behalf of Major League Baseball. The report blamed a culture of performance-enhancing drugs on both players and management and implicated a menagerie of current and former players, including Andy Pettite, Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi, in substance abuse problems.

26. Michael Phelps Wins 8 Gold Medals (August 17, 2008)

Baltimore-born swimming superstar, Michael Phelps, dominates mens swimming at the Beijing Olympics with a record 8 gold medals. He previously won 6 golds and 2 silvers in Athens.

25. Sarah Palin Makes Her National Debut (August 29, 2008)

In what may go down in history as one of politics biggest “oops” moment, GOP Presidential Candidate John McCain, wanting to make a statement with a woman VP candidate, names Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The move proved to be disastrous as Palin was not prepared for the national spotlight. After the Campaign ended, controversy continued to swirl around her, her odd resignation as Governor and her personal and home life.

24. Market Crash of 2008 (October 2, 2008)

The Global Recession, by most accounts, began in late 2006 or early 2007, but it became acute and pronounced on October 2, 2008 when the Dow Jones fell 3.22% (~348 points). It would continue to fall for the rest of the week losing 22% of it’s value in 4 days. The market was exacerbated by the failure of Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and would ultimately lead to government bailouts or facilitated mergers of some of the worlds largest lending institituions under the mantra, “Too big to fail.”

23. Too Big to Fail – Bush Bailouts (October 3, 2008)

Under the Bush administration, with tremendous economic pressure and fatal outlooks, a $700B emergency bailout fund was established by Congress to assist in the closure, restructuring, merger and re-capitalization of major banks and institutions like Bank of America, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, AIG and more. It became one of the most controversial economic storylines of recent times and was extended by the incoming Obama Administration.

22. Obama Landslide (November 4, 2008)

With celebrations in Washington, DC and major cities around the United States and world, Obama is elected as the 44th President of the United States marking the end of a terrible Bush Administration and marking the first time a black man was elected to the most powerful Office in the world. Impromptu celebrations were held in front of the White House and in the streets around the world.

21. California Adopts Proposition 8 (November 4, 2008)

Stop the Hate
Photo by Chriki on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

In what has been viewed by equal rights organizations around the country as a severe regression, one of the most progressive states in the nation adopts Proposition 8, a statewide ballot initiative that would prohibit gay marriage in California. It also became a hot button issue for critics of special interest influence in politics as the ballot initiative was largely funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons – who executed a well-funded grass-roots effort to pass the proposition.

20. Obama is Inaugurated (January 20, 2009)

On a frigid day in January, 1.8M people descended on the National Mall to witness the Inauguration of America’s first African-American president. Parties included a concert the day before at the Lincoln Memorial where rapper Jay-Z sang “I’ve Got 99 Problems but a Bush ain’t one” and the ceremonial Marine One whisking away of the outgoing president was greeted by millions chanting, “Nah nah nah nah. Nah nah nah nah. Hey hey hey. Goodbye”.

19. The Birth of the Tea Party (April 15, 2009)

Around the country, on tax day in 2009, hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered to protest heavy taxation by the government. What began as an anti-tax movement, quickly turned into one of the most influential – and arguably nutty – political fraction groups in the history of the United States. In 2010, the Tea Party successfully elected pro-Tea Party Congressmen in the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives.

18. H1N1 (June 1, 2009)

The Swine flu became a hot button issue of concern for many fearing a pandemic – and a source of ridicule for Halloween goers later in the year who dressed up as the H1N1 virus. The swine flue was a strain of the common flu that was potentially fatal and caused deaths nationwide. The CDC, along with other sister agencies in other countries and the World Health Organization, ran heavy public education campaigns to reduce the risk of pandemic.

17. Michael Jackson Dies (June 25, 2009)

The world mourned the loss of Michael Jackson who died of an overdose mis-administered by his personal doctor. His death was not believed to be suicide, but was the result of negligence. Days later at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a funeral was held with touching eulogies from his brother and father, among others.

16. Steve McNair Murdered by His Mistress (July 4, 2009)

NFL Quarterback Steve McNair, who played for both the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens, was killed by his 22 year old mistress in Nashville. Rumors of jealousy and rage were circled as particular motives.

15. Wikileaks Bursts on the Scene with Cablegate (February 18, 2010)

The controversial grassroots organization founded by Aussie vigilante Julian Assange, Wikileaks, makes huge political waves by releasing State Department cables to select media organizations. Though redacted to protect the identities of spies, informants and individual workers, the cables represent damning internal and international diplomatic decision making and communications.

14. Health Care Reform Act (March 21, 2010)

After over a year of debate, arguing, politicking, and blockage, the House and Senate finally agree to a compromise Health Care Reform Bill that has become President Obama’s signature legislation. Parts of the bill are under judicial review.

13. Icelandic Volcano Grounds Europe (April 14, 2010)

Mount Eyjafjallajökull erupts in Iceland spreading volcanic ash across the UK, Europe and the trans-atlantic flight corridors. Flights are grounded for days and passengers stranded. Some passengers reported trying to drive across Europe to other countries, like Spain, to get to an airport with outgoing flights – like Barcelona – but with no success. It became a massive economic problem.

12. The BP Oil Spill (April 20, 2010)

An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by BP caused the rig to collapse and snap the pipe dug into the earths crust. The result was 3 months of oil continually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Multiple solutions were attempted to seal the well but nothing was successul until September. Cleanup continues to this day.

11. Reggie Bush Gives His Heisman Trophy Back (September 15, 2010)

New Orleans Saints Running Back Reggie Bush, who won the 2005 Heisman Trophy while at USC, gave back his Heisman Trophy amid public pressure after sanctions were dropped on USC for recruiting and other violations. USC was required to vacate all 2004-2005 wins including their National Championship win over Oklahoma, and is banned from post-season play for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Bush became the first player ever to return a Heisman Trophy.

10. Brett Favre’s Penis (October 7, 2010)

Brett Favre apparently has a little penis, or so the pictures say. The news of Favre texting pictures of his junk to, then-Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger was broken by sports-gossip blog Deadspin. Brett’s taste in women… impeccable. Brett’s taste in text message appropriateness… questionable.

9. The Republicans Win Back the House (November 2, 2010)

In a national referendum on Obama, the GOP retook the House of Representatives and made significant strides in the Senate on a wave of Tea Party momentum. Freshman Republican legislators, such as Rand Paul, would become influential in the budget and taxation issues in the current Congress.

8. The Arab Spring Begins (December 17, 2010)

The Arab Spring, a coordinated series of protests that would ultimately turn the Middle East on its head, begins with a Tunisian man setting himself on fire in protest of police confiscating his vegetable cart. An uprising would subsequently occur that saw the fall of the Tunisian government. Other Arabs, buoyed by a sense of enablement, protested and in some case achieved regime change in Egypt and Lybia. Unrest and calls for revolution were also heard in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran and Algeria.

7. Japanese Nuclear Fallout (March 11, 2011)

After a devastating earthquake rocked Japan, concern began to spread to the Fukushima Nuclear reactor. Despite efforts to contain damage – and initial reports that the reactor was safe and not breached – it became clear that containment was not possible. Though ultimately contained, it did not happen until significant amounts of radiation escaped into the ground, water and atmosphere. Trace amounts of I-131 radiation (non-harmful doses) were detected as far away as California.

6. Osama Bin Laden Killed (April 30, 2011)

With a dramatic late-night address to the nation – called with only an hour warning – President Obama informed America and the world of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Osama was killed by Navy SEAL Team 6 in a raid on a Pakistani compound. Later, some would question the death because the Administration decided not to release pictures.

5. Amy Winehouse Joins the 27 Club (July 23, 2011)

British pop superstar, Amy Winehouse dies of an apparent drug overdose at Age 27. She joins the “Club of 27”, a group of musicians that include Jimmie Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who also died at Age 27.

4. Faster than Light (September 22, 2011)

Battlestar Galactica fans would endorse the concept “Faster than Light”, but physicists at the CERN research center in Switzerland release a preliminary report showing that they had found a neutrino – a tiny sub-atomic particle – that traveled faster than light. Secondary test would reveal the same finding. Other scientific researchers question the results, however. If true, the discovery would undermine the core building block of modern science – that nothing is faster than light. Albert Einstein is turning over in his grave.

3. Occupy Wall Street (September 17, 2011)

The economic difficulties and political climate in the past few years finally force a boil over of sentiment toward the perceptions of class-entitlement. The mantra “We are the 99%” has become a rallying cry for anyone who feels slighted by entitlement. The Occupy Wall Street Movement, while protesting excesses on Wall Street, has been mirrored across the country. In some incidents, occupy movements have turned into political hot potatoes that shine the light on police corruption and brutality as was the case when a police officer casually pepper sprayed a series of kneeling protestors on the campus of UC-Berkeley.

2. Moammar Ghaddafi Killed (October 20, 2011)

After months of civil war, belligerent resistance to national and international calls to step down – generally in the form of hapless, wandering, rambling televised addresses – NATO military intervention and repeated rumors (but no proof) of his death, Moammar Ghaddafi is confirmed dead in Libya. After a NATO airstrike hit a convoy he was riding in, he took shelter in a drainage ditch where he was captured by National Transitional Council forces. He died en route to the hospital.

1. Penn State Child Sex Scandal (November 5, 2011)

We are rocked by the grand jury indictments handed down on former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is charged with multiple sex abuse charges as they relate to 4 alleged victims. In the wake of the scandal, fingers are pointed at various people and blame is passed. Ultimately, Penn State’s Board of Trustees remove the President, Athletic Directory, Head Coach Joe Paterno and others from their responsibilities.

So there we have it. 8 years of war. An entire different country. Have we learned from our mistakes? Probably not. We’ll see. Happy Christmas! War is Over! If You Want It!

Digital Music is Dead, Long Live Digital Music: The Case for Spotify

Back in the 1990s, there was Napster. I mean, the original Napster not the shadow of a brand that is part of the Best Buy electronics offering.

Napster effectively eliminated optical media by making people realize that the digital format was the only long-term, effective, space-saving way of having music that was portable.

Sure there were MP3s before Napster, and yes, some people had decent libraries of music that they carried around on their portable MP3 players. But Napster made it mainstream by making it easy for anyone to find any music they wanted and download it.

It was illegal and rightly so. There was no way to monetize the music underground economy and intellectual property belongs to someone. So Napster got sued. A lot.

Someone along the way suggested that perhaps a more amenable for Napster to provide digital media to fans and give the record labels a reach around at the same time was the unlimited music for $9.99/mo. Napster balked saying no one would pay that kind of subscription fee.

The lawsuits became so much that the music service had to shut its doors. In an attempt to resurrect themselves just a year or two later, they finally adopted the music subscription model but it was too little too late.

Other music subscriptions came along such as Rhapsody but never gained any kind of real market share. Rhapsody is still open and charges a monthly fee but it just never gained the traction needed.

Spotify Arrives!

In 2008, a new music service, Spotify, launched in Europe. The model was of the subscription type where consumers could pay a monthly fee for the ability to stream any music in their catalog.

The service gained huge popularity in Europe while consumers in the United States clamored for access. Month after month, year after year, the rumors surfaced that Spotify was preparing their U.S. launch and it never came… until last week.

In the meantime, consumers have been inundated with cloud-based web apps. They use Gmail from the web, Facebook for interactions with friends and family, Twitter for persistent real-time communication. Consumers have lost their desire to want to own their own data, and as such, the droning drumbeat of Spotify in Europe as a music subscription service is now arriving in the U.S. past the tipping point of data ownership needs.

That’s a long way of saying – people don’t care if they own their music anymore if they’ve got everything they need in a music service that doesn’t provide ownership.

The Case for Physical and Owned Digital Media

Through the years, I’ve always been a proponent of having my music in a digital format as opposed to a streaming service. I’d rather buy the album on iTunes or Amazon MP3 and know I have it than just stream it from somewhere.

I’ve wanted to play music on demand and not have to rely on a faux-radio service like Pandora to get it done. I like Pandora. I pay for Pandora. But I can’t listen to the songs I want to on demand as part of their licensing agreement with the labels.

I like having dick-measuring competitions about how big my music library is. The bigger it is, the better I am. I must be a more serious music lover. Or so I’ve felt.

With the ownership model, I could take my music everywhere. Hell, even cars have iPod jacks in them so that 50GB library can be taken on the road. I could go for a run and listen to an assortment of playlists for just such an occasion or I could have my library with me for when I need to drum up an impromptu karaoke song and can’t remember how the song starts.

I thought.

In fact, I thought until last week when Spotify launched in the United States. Now… I don’t care about my digital music library. Every argument for it has been shattered into a million small (yet suitably sharp and jagged and “hope you’re wearing sandals so you don’t cut your feet”) pieces.

Spotify is the Music Messiah

At one point, I thought it was important to take my music with me wherever I go. I still do. Spotify has apps for every major mobile device (and if you don’t have a mobile strategy in anything, you lose) and they all tightly integrate with the web service and related desktop apps for both Windows and Mac. Everything is synced. And you can listen to music offline!

At some point I was very concerned about how big my music library was. I feared a catastrophic data loss that would wipe out my years of music collection, purchasing and playlist assembly. Of course, there were backups but that took forever over a network or to an external hard drive.

Spotify solves this by integrating with all your DRM-free music on iTunes or other music player, importing them, making them available in the cloud or offline. It also eliminates the need to have music library. Who needs a music library when every major label is signed on to provide their catalog to the service. I have the entire music world as my music library. My dick, by definition, is therefore bigger.

But the real killer in Spotify is the ingenious social aspect. Sure, you can have a lot of music. Sure, you can have playlists. Sure, you can have subscription models. Sure, you can have mobile availability.

Spotify put the biggest teenage-era “I love you” method in digital format by allowing the mix tape to be replaced by playlists… that are sharable with someone, some service or the world.

Queue up your Bieber-esque bee-bop feel good technosailor dance-esque songlists… the mix tape has gone digital!

It’s the End of the World as We Know It… And I Feel Fine

Spotify will undoubtedly continue to evolve. Launching in the United States gives them a much larger audience to tap into for feedback and expectations. I would like to see the social integration tighter and more obvious, but all in good time.

Rarely does a game changer come along. A lot of people think they have the game changing app… but it never happens. This is, in fact, the revolution that we’ve been waiting for. I no longer even think about my iTunes library, Amazon MP3 purchasing or other digital media. Everything I need is right there in my dick-sized music library.

Photo by Cerebro Humano

Verizon iPhone Raises New Predicaments

For as long as the iPhone has been out, I have been opposed to it. Not because of the iPhone per se. In fact, it’s a great looking device with intuitive design. But over the years there have been fundamental flaws that have prevented me from buying it. These flaws, in my mind, have been:

  • Doesn’t allow native apps
  • Apple tries to control too much
  • Not open source
  • AT&T-only
  • Lack of like-kind competition
  • Antenna/reception issues
  • Crappy mic
  • Crappy camera

Photo by Witer

There are other concerns I’ve raised but the reality is, most of this has been resolved now.

For instance, the iPhone 3G introduced the App concept. They’ve put a better mic and camera in. The antenna situation for the iPhone 4, well… that still exists but at least there’s a lifehack to prevent it.

Some things won’t change. The OS will never be open source like Android. That’s probably not a deal-breaker for me. Apple will still try to control how app developers and users use their device, but whatever.

Here’s the thing that changes the paradigm and makes me re-examine my suppositions… Verizon now has the iPhone 4 as of this morning. Presumably, this means no more silly lack of coverage in major metropolitan areas like NYC and San Francisco. Supposedly, that means that events like Inauguration, ACL Fest and SXSW won’t be dark as a result of weak coverage.

And of course, that bodes well for AT&T and their network load as well because, perhaps up to half of their iPhone customer base will migrate to Verizon. Their customers have been clamoring for this day.

But now what do I do? With all of the paradigm shifting, I’m now placed in an awkward position. Should I buy the Verizon iPhone or not?

Updated: I should add… no one knows yet how the iPhone will behave on Verizon’s network. My recommendation is to treat it like all Rev A Apple Hardware… don’t buy it on Day 1 and don’t wait in line. Let the idiot early adopters work out the kinks before jumping in. You’re already probably in a contract so just wait a few minutes.

Best Internet Memes of 2010

Pants on the Ground

January came in with a roar with American Idol auditions. One audition, General Larry Pratt, sang a ridiculous song “Pants on the Ground”. See the original audition below:

This spawned remixes, covers and even Brett Favre firing up the Minnesota Vikings after winning the NFC Divisional game.

I’m on a Horse

The Old Spice commercial that took the internet by storm because… well, because it was so damn ridiculously funny. The man behind the I’m on a horse commercial is none other than Twitter user @isaiahmustafa.

Funny stuff.

The meme continued when Old Spice did an Old Spice Questions series on YouTube where Isaiah Mustafa took questions from Twitter users and answered them on YouTube.

After Isaiah Mustafa stepped down as the Old Spice spokesman, Baltimore Ravens lineback Ray Lewis stepped in with a hilarity of his own.


Leroy Stick (fake name) began the Twitter account @BPGlobalPR as a result of watching for over a month as BP Public Relations people spun bullshit to the general public and government after the catastrophic oil catastrophy in the Gulf of Mexico. The account served several purposes. For one, it helped us laugh when he put out content like these:

The second purpose it served was to draw attention to the horrible way BP managed their reputation and brand. At the TEDxOilSpill event, Stick was quoted as saying, “Having a brand means you stand for something. If you lie, than lying is your brand.”

This account has easily become the most retweeted account in 2010 and it’s devastating in it’s satirical impact.

Double Rainbow

The Double Rainbow Meme was hilarious in its own right. A guy in Yosemite National Park witnessed a double rainbow and proceeds to cry, weep, squeal and ask, “What’s it mean?” on video. The video was shared across the internet and even remixed into an autotuned song.

You’re Holding it Wrong

With the release of the iPhone 4, users complained about lack of reception and dropped calls. In an extraordinary press conference shortly after the release of the phone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs commented on how, if the phone was held a certain way, it would interfere with the built-in antenna. This was echoed by Apple and AT&T Support technicians and the phrase, “You’re holding it wrong” was adopted by the masses.

You’re holding it wrong also became a euphemism for other hilarity throughout 2010.

I’m Pro Choice. I’m Android.

We in the tech world are a fickle bunch. On one side of our brain, we scream about openness and freedoms. We verbally disparage anyone who would dare mess with our precious Internet freedoms. Many of us, especially in my WordPress community, swear allegiance to licensing that ensures data and code exchanges on open standards.

Yet one thing stands out to me as an anomaly on this, the opening day of pre-orders for the iPhone 4.

Photo by laihiu on Flickr

Ah yes. The iPhone. The gadget that makes grown men quake in their shoes. The thing that causes adults to behave as if they left their brains at the door. At one point in time, I called this behavior “an applegasm” and identified the Apple store as the place where intelligent people go to die.

And it’s not only the iPhone. It’s the iPad too (I bought one 3 weeks after release and only because I needed it for some client work). In fact, it’s any Apple device. Apple has a way of turning people into automatons controlled by the Borg in Cupertino.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple and I love Apple products. However, there is a degree of hypocrisy (or shall we call it “situational morality”) that comes into play here. There is nothing “open” about Apple products. Sure, Steve Jobs famously points out that Apple encourages the use of open web standards like HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, but the devices are nowhere near open.

In fact, the devices are so closed and guarded that strange things like lost stolen iPhone prototypes make huge news. There is only one device. There is only one operating system. There is only one permitted way of designing apps. There is only one carrier (in the United States).

And the open standards, web-free, maniacal tech world that is ready to take off the heads of closed entities like Microsoft, Facebook and Palm, whistle silently and look the other way when it comes to Apple.

In another few weeks, I am going to be eligible for an upgrade with Verizon Wireless. As a longtime BlackBerry user (I refuse to give money to AT&T ever), I will be investing in a new Android-based phone. I won’t be doing this with any kind of religious conviction about open source. There is a legitimate place for closed source in this world. I’m doing this because the culture of openness (which supersedes the execution of openness, in my mind), allows for more innovation and creativity.

In the Android world (which is quickly catching up to the iPhone world), apps are being created without the artificial restrictions placed by a single gatekeeper. There are more choices in phones. Don’t like this one? Try that one. There is a greater anticipation around what can be done.

Apple had to have its arm twisted to enable multitasking in it’s latest operating system. It had to have its arm twisted to allow cut and paste. It still hasn’t provided a decent camera, despite consumers begging for one. In the Android world, if Motorola doesn’t provide it, maybe HTC does. You have choice. Choice is good.

I’m pro choice.

Do Not Lock In To One Device Lest You Kill Your Company

It’s funny. Comical even. A few weeks ago, I wrote that The iPhone is to Smartphones as IE6 was to Browsers. Most of the readers of that article agreed with me but almost all had a “but, but, but…” argument. This is because the iPhone is one sexy beast to users, even though AT&T can’t seem to support the iPhone, as we also noted.

This is a comical observation because my position was endorsed (if not directly) by Peter-Paul Koch who daintily comments that “[He] will shout at web developers who think that delicately inserting an iPhone up their ass is the same as mobile web development.” He goes on to slam the web development community to catering to the iPhone in the same broken-record way that web developers catered to IE6 ten years ago.

Photo by Matt Buchanan

And adding insult to injury, the Guardian also picked up that story and offered their own ringing endorsement for both Peter-Paul and my perspectives.

I just got off the phone with an unnamed entrepreneur who wants to build a product that, while looking to the future and planning to diversify over a variety of products, looks at Apple’s forthcoming iPad as the launch device. I will offer you the same advice I offered him as well as the same advice I offer to iPhone only products like Gowalla.

If you want to start on the iPad, fine. You better be damn sure you’re ready to diversify quickly. I don’t care if you put it on a non-touch device like, oh I don’t know, the web with a normal browser on a normal computer… do not disenfranchise users. Peter-Paul Koch notes, in the article I linked to above, that the iPhone carries only 15% of the worldwide mobile market. Yet it gets an insane amount of attention as if it was the most important product ever created.

Newsflash… it’s not. It’s not even close.

In fact, it’s still not a business class phone (with rare exception). And in fact, developers continue to ignore other platforms… like the BlackBerry.

Sidenote: It’s okay to have a mobile web interface but don’t lose the forest through the trees. Users will feel like second-hand citizens if you don’t pay attention to their needs.

Mobile developers: Think before you develop only for the iPhone or only for the iPad. Entrepreneurs: Think before you start a company or launch a product made exclusively, or designed with a business model only for the iPhone or the iPad.

The iPhone is to Smartphones as IE6 was to Browsers

A few years ago when Apple stormed on the scene with their new, revolutionary phone that they called the iPhone, a moment in history occurred that would change the mobile space. It suddenly became possible for rich web browsing from a mobile phone. It became possible to listen to music in a natural way on your phone. Touch screens became the norm.

A year later, Apple announced their second generation phone, the iPhone 3G. With it, they opened up the ecosystem even more by allowing developers to build third party apps that could run on the iPhone. 50 million apps later, it is still the best thing about the iPhone.

Apple made some mistakes during this process, as it would naturally be assumed they would as a relative newbie to the phone manufacturing world. They took too long to open up the device to third party apps and when they did, they employed draconian and inconsistent rules that were undocumented, uncommunicated and, generally frustrating to companies building apps for the iPhone.

When their third generation phone, the iPhone 3GS emerged, there were some improvements (such as cut and paste, video and voice control), but the more frustrating aspects of the device remained unchanged. The iPhone still doesn’t provide a flash for its camera. It still doesn’t support Flash. It still can’t be tethered as was promised (at least in the United States under AT&T).

Worse, the inherent failure of the iPhone (undoubtedly expected to be it’s greatest appeal) is the restriction of the operating system to a single Apple device. I get why. But now let’s flip the card.

Google today announced the Nexus One, a new Android-powered phone that, in the words of Good Morning Silicon Valley, is “a worthy iPhone competitor“. Actually, that’s a tame phrase. Let me give you a piece of this article titled, “Google vs. Apple: There Will be Blood”:

No single device is going to “œkill” the iPhone, and that’s not really Google’s intent anyway, iPhone users being the heavy Web traffickers that they are. But Google does have a strong interest in fostering enough competition to keep Apple from dominating the mobile market, which is why it chose the strategy it did “” providing a strong and improving platform that could support multiple manufacturers offering multiple models to multiple demographic segments across multiple carriers. Google doesn’t need to tear down the iPhone; it just needs to make sure there are plenty of attractive alternatives for smartphone shoppers who for various reasons don’t feel compelled to join the Apple-AT&T axis. As an Android flagship, unlocked but initially aligned with T-Mobile, the Nexus One fits as part of that plan.

And now it might be time to note that Google is winning this battle. Besides last years flop G1 launch with T-Mobile (I’ll be honest, the thing was a brick and ran on a very early version of Android so not surprised it really didn’t go anywhere), Verizon Wireless has just launched the Droid by Motorola and the Droid Eris by HTC. They are promising three Android phones in 2010. T-Mobile is now launching with the Nexus One and Verizon Wireless should get it this spring.

AT&T will not get an Android phone as long as they have an exclusive relationship with Apple.

The road to victory is very clear and Google has the advantage. Despite Android being open source, it’s patron saint is Google. Therefore, Google has distribution interest. The more Android phones that can be sold and made – of multiple varieties – on multiple carriers – possibly including Netbooks, the more they control the market. The more Apple fails to radicalize their roadmap with the iPhone, the more they lose the market.

Let’s go back a few years. The great browser wars of the 1990s were dwindling down as NEtscape was acquired by AOL then turned into a bastard half-breed of itself. Firefox, under leadership of the Mozilla Foundation, was blazing new paths in the browser market. Microsoft had largely cooled its heels standardizing around Internet Explorer 6. No further browsers were expected to be made. The battle had been fought, the war had been won. Microsoft ruled supreme.

That was what they thought. Meanwhile, Firefox kept making progress gradually stealing market share here or there like a rogue flitting through shadows snatching purses and wallets.

This opened the door to other browsers – Opera, Safari, eventually Google Chrome – to enter the marketplace. Microsoft realized they had sat on their heels too long and finally began building Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer 8 would soon follow. Internet Explorer 9 is around the corner. All of the sudden, when competition increased, Microsoft ran heavy and ran hard to keep up.

This is where Apple is going.

In about 6 months, if history teaches us anything, Apple will launch their 4th generation iPhone. Conventional wisdom suggests that the fat days of Apple and AT&T operating in lockstep are over. Conventional business wisdom suggests that the iPhone must radically alter the playing field with this release to stay competitive in the market. While the iPhone still has market share, so did IE6. While Apple sits back and does incremental enhancements and call them major releases, the scrappy Android will take market share if given the opportunity.

What are your thoughts on this extremely interesting business environment?

* Photo by ColorblindPICASSO

Can we Identify the United States as a Bad AT&T Service Area?

AT&T has upped the ante on their service level. Seems they realize they have a really bad reputation of “Fewer bars in more places” and Verizon Wireless is taking it to them with their “There’s a map for that” ads. These ads caused AT&T to sue Verizon Wireless because the ads apparently misrepresented the truth (though AT&T never denied the ads validity – the maps are comparisons between Verizon Wireless’ all-3G network and AT&T’s much more limited 3G network that complements a larger non-3G calling network). Subsequently, AT&T dropped their suit after it became clear they would not win.

So AT&T admits they have bad service back in September (video below) with “Seth the Blogger Guy” (LOLWUT?) and then sues Verizon Wireless for not being wrong (LOLHUHWUT?)

Now AT&T, according to Download Squad has released a new iPhone app to let users submit reports of bad service. Presumably this QA process will help AT&T beef up their network coverage in the areas that are lacking…. like the United States (LOLWTFWUT?).

Because really, if you can’t get reliable service at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the heart of iPhone zealotry, why not just mark the whole network as unreliable?

This jockeying comes at a critical time when Apple is deciding whether to renew their exclusive relationship with AT&T or to expand to other networks like Verizon Wireless who are preparing to launch their 4G LTE network nationwide. Meanwhile, Verizon is planning at least three new Android phones in 2010 raising the spectre of a holy war among iPhone loyalists and Android fans.

As my friend Jimmy Gardner says on Twitter regarding the multi-tasking ability that is making current Android phones so much more desirable than the iPhone:

From a former iphone snob … had u a droid you could check the traffic while listening to pandora At the Same Time

I’m just saying.

* Thumbnail image by Aaron Landry

The Best Business Smartphone Available (Today)

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, then you have some affinity to technology and that you’re in the business of technology (whether directly, or using technology to do your job – and I don’t mean having a computer on your desk at work). This is a pretty tech-savvy crowd around these parts so I’m guessing that most of you own a smartphone of some sort. Many have iPhones. Perhaps as many have BlackBerrys. A few of you are sad, sad people who own Treos.

A swath of new smartphones have just hit the market and, though I don’t claim to be a gadget or phone blogger (Really, you need to go read Boy Genius and Gizmodo for a far more geeky and informative analysis of all the various devices that hit the market), I do know that I’m a businessman and entrepreneur. I know that, from my perspective, there are key principles and requirements in any phone.

In order for a businessperson or entrepreneur to invest in a phone (again, from my perspective), there needs to be a few key things.

  1. Email – Clearly the killer app forever now, any phone must support email. As part of this, there needs to be a wireless sync/push feature.
  2. Productivity – Any smartphone needs to be able to open files from major vendors – Word, Excel, PDFs, Images, etc.
  3. Competent mobile browser – As mobile professionals, we need the web more than the average home user. We need access to sites that are not inherently broken because they appear on the mobile device.
  4. Reliable network – This is not a plug for Verizon because several U.S. and international carriers can be considered “reliable”. Whatever the network that the phone is on, it needs to be reliable.
  5. Third Party Applications – How easy is it to add apps that you need to your phone? Are there quality apps available or not?
  6. Copy and Paste – One of those “Duh” features that is essential.

You may notice some notable omissions from this list that emphasize the angle of business utility. For instance, cameras, WiFi and GPS are all nice but unnecessary for business. Touch screens, such as the one that comes with the iPhone or BlackBerry Storm are also nice additions, but not required for business utility.

In my mind, there are three phones on the market that are worth considering for business use. I have my preference on which one is best, but businesses all have to decide what their needs are and, if they are practical, choose among one of these three devices.

Apple iPhone 3G S

apple-iphone-3gThe third generation iPhone just hit the market on June 19th. It boasts all of the features of the iPhone 3G plus a quicker OS and a better camera. Most of the new features of the iPhone are available via an OS 3.0 upgrade available for free for older iPhone owners. With the new iPhone, you can tether your iPhone for broadband access on your laptop (except AT&T customers in the US), and an all important Remote Wipe capability that will allow network administrators to remove sensitive data in case the phone is lost or stolen. Cost: $199 with new two year contract from AT&T (US)


  • Huge number of third party apps including many business apps via the iTunes App Store
  • Remote Wipe
  • Intuitive touch screen
  • WiFi or 3G connectivity


  • AT&T as the carrier in the United States has been hugely unreliable delivering even basic services like voice mail
  • Exorbitant data plan fees
  • Large glass screen lends itself to breakage
  • Insecure Microsoft Exchange integration
  • Inability to multi-task applications

Palm Pre

palm-prePalm used to be the dominant manufacturer of handheld devices. With the rising popularity of BlackBerrys and iPhones, Palm has slipped tremendously. They recently, however, came to market with a very sleek phone that has an open development structure with their WebOS. Unlike the iPhone, the Pre does a very good job of multitasking and with it’s touch screen, switching between open applications is a smooth process. Also unlike the iPhone, the Pre provides a physical keyboard that, while somewhat awkward to use, should appease users who like the tactile feel of actual keys. Cost: $199 with new two year contract from Sprint.


  • Small form factor
  • Sprint has a very good data network
  • Bright HVGA screen (touch screen)
  • Email and integration with Microsoft Exchange
  • WiFi or 3G connectivity
  • Classic Konami Nintendo game Contra code to unlock developer mode. Geek Props.


  • Screen is much smaller than the iPhone
  • Awkward slide out keyboard with tiny keys makes typing difficult
  • Third party application availability is limited at this time
  • No Remote Wipe, a security requirement that might prevent large scale adoption in enterprise

BlackBerry Tour 9630

blackberry-tour-96301For BlackBerry afficionados, the new BlackBerry Tour (available for both Sprint and Verizon Wireless) is a beautiful phone. It has the brilliant screen (if slightly smaller version) as the BlackBerry Bold from AT&T and the form factor and keyboard styling of the new BlackBerry Curve 8350i (from Sprint). It has all the Enterprise integration that BlackBerry has been known for including remote wipe and Exchange integration (via Blackberry Enterprise Server for Exchange). Cost: $199 with new two year contract on Sprint or Verizon Wireless


  • Familiar usability for BlackBerry users
  • OS 4.7, which includes a usable browser (departure from the norm)
  • Multi-tasking applications


  • No touch screen
  • Awkward position of MicroUSB slot makes it difficult for right handed users to use the device while it is plugged in
  • Still no competent native Mac support, though this is supposedly coming soon.

At the end of the day, each organization needs to determine what is best for them. iPhones are fantastic devices for custom applications and is being used in the military, enterprise and government alike. They are not the most secure devices though and, for now, require AT&T in the U.S. The Palm Pre offers a significant value for businesses, but lacks Enterprise features such as remote wipe. It is also the first generation model of this phone. The BlackBerry is the most utilitarian phone and remains popular for businesses but its lack of a touch screen, the likes of which Apple has made us expect and long for, makes it “meh” for some users.

Whatever works for you.